Bill Musgrave blames himself, not Christian Ponder, for downfield 'O'
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Christian Ponder's longest completion in Sunday's loss at Indianapolis went for only 20 yards, but Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave made clear on Thursday the lack of downfield strikes wasn't Ponder's fault.
"I think he had three out of his 70 plays in which we would want him to do something different decision-making (wise)," Musgrave said on Thursday. "That is a good percentage. To his credit, they were taking away some of our chunk plays down the field.
"Rather than forcing them, which young and old quarterbacks do at times, he found some completions at a definite high rate. He was doing what the play called for, and to his credit, he battled back and got his team back to a tie with 30 seconds left."
Musgrave did not go into detail about the three plays in which the coaching staff would have wanted Ponder to do something different, but it isn't too hard to figure it out.
Ponder -- who finished 27-of-35 passing for 245 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions -- lost a second-quarter fumble at midfield when he was hit from behind and sacked after dropping back to pass.
In the fourth quarter, Colts middle linebacker Kavell Conner dropped an interception around the Vikings' 35-yard line when Ponder attempted to force a slant, rather than throwing to the open man in the flat.
And a 7-yard touchdown pass by Ponder in the final quarter that kept the game alive on a fourth-and-4 might have been an interception for linebacker Jerrell Freeman had defensive end Cory Redding not redirected the ball at the line of scrimmage.
Ponder made it clear after the game that his priority is avoiding mistakes and the Colts often had his receivers covered down field, so the potential long pass plays weren't there.
Musgrave did call several deep play-action fakes with extra protection -- clear indications the ball was supposed to go deep. Asked if receivers were open on any of those plays, Musgrave said, "They weren't, and that's not on Christian. That's on myself, the play-caller, and us as a staff designing plays.
"We definitely want to have more chunks going forward. We didn't get a chance for them to materialize against Indianapolis, and that really hurt us. It hurt us in the long run."
The Vikings will need to be able to throw the ball on Sunday after a 49ers defense that is one of the NFL's best.
"The last two years, they've been tremendous against the run," Musgrave said. "They haven't let people run the ball in the end zone on them either. I think Tarvaris (Jackson) had a broken play with Seattle last year, and that's how they gave up their first rushing touchdown.
"A lot of times, they do it with just a six- and seven-man box, too. The guys may get blocked, but they don't stay blocked for long, so we'll need to sustain and be more physical than they are."